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Disney Junk Food Ban – A Dream Come True?

June 11, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The announcement by the Walt Disney company that it will ban junk-food advertising on its children's programs and networks is being hailed by First Lady Michelle Obama, who campaigns against obesity and unhealthy food. But do voluntary initiatives by corporations go far enough?

Makani Themba, who directs the group Communities Creating Healthy Environments, welcomes the move by Disney but retains some skepticism.

"Disney did not say they were going to stop marketing to kids, but they said they were going to stop marketing junk food to kids. I think that there are still some things to watch and to monitor about - What does that mean? And what kinds of food? And how do we even understand what are healthy foods? - because I think there's a lot of debate about that."

Michelle Obama's efforts are laudable, Themba says, but it's time for policymakers and government to play a stronger role in children's nutritional issues. She says the Disney junk-food ban underscores the enormous power of media.

"The most important thing about this is that Disney is admitting what communities have known forever, and that is: Junk-food marketing is bad for kids, it's unhealthy and companies should stop it."

Themba says Michelle Obama already is one of the most successful first ladies to use the "bully pulpit" of the White House to effect social change.

"Of course, she can't do it alone. And government and policymakers have to step up and play the role that they need to play to protect our kids."

Other broadcasters, including Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, restrict the marketing use of their characters to foods that meet specific nutritional guidelines. Nickelodeon uses standards developed by the food industry. Disney says its standards will follow federal recommendations.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV